Are Preschool Naps a Waste of Time?

Originally published on Savvy Auntie.

“Naps are not wasted time,” according to Rebecca Spencer, neuroscientist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of a small study that suggests afternoon naps may improve children’s memory and therefore their ability to learn (HealthDay News).

According to Spencer, preschoolers will store learned material, such as ABCs, shape sorting, and social interactions, into short-term storage areas of their brains:

A nap allows information to move from temporary storage to more permanent storage, from the hippocampus to the cortical areas of the brain. You’ve heard the phrase, ‘You should sleep on it.’ Well, that’s what we’re talking about: children need to process some of the input from the day.

The study, published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, involved 40 children from six preschools in western Massachusetts, who were taught by researchers a visual-spatial memory game in the morning and then later asked to remember where 9 to 12 images were located on a grid. In the afternoon, the children were either encouraged to nap (for approximately 80 minutes) or stay up. Delayed recall was then tested among the two groups later that afternoon and the following morning.

The children had similar performances during the morning tests, when retention was fresh, but those who did not nap forgot significantly more—the children who took naps remembered 10% more than those who stayed awake. The following morning, children who had napped the previous afternoon scored better than the others. According to researchers, the data seemed to indicate that children don’t recover the memory benefit from sleep at night.

Fourteen preschoolers were taken to a sleep lab for polysomnography, a sleep study that reveals changes in the brain, in order to better understand memory processing during afternoon naps. Given 70-minute nap periods, the children showed signs of signals being sent to long-term memory from the hippocampus. This was a clear indicator to Spencer of the relationship between learning and retention after afternoon naps: “There was evidence of a cause-and-effect relationship between signs that the brain is integrating new information and the memory benefit of a nap.”

Further Reading

National Sleep Foundation: Children and Sleep
Sleep for Kids
KidsHealth: The Importance of Naps

Photo: Stuart Miles

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